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Monica La Rose

Monica La Rose

Monica (Brands) La Rose studied English and Theology at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, and completed a Master of Theological Studies degree at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In October 2019, she married Ben La Rose, a musician and electrical engineer. She and Ben live in St. Charles, IL with their son Kayden and their two cats, Heathcliff and Mystique.

Articles by Monica La Rose

I’m Nobody! Who Are You?

In a poem that begins, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Emily Dickinson playfully challenges all the effort people tend to put into being “somebody,” advocating instead for the joyful freedom of blissful anonymity. For “How dreary – to be – Somebody! How public – like a Frog – / To tell one’s name – the livelong June / To an admiring Bog!”

Finding freedom in letting go of the need to be “somebody” in some ways echoes the testimony of the apostle Paul. Before he met Christ, Paul had a long list of seemingly impressive religious credentials and achievements, apparent “reasons to put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:4).

But encountering Jesus changed everything. When Paul saw how hollow his religious fervor and achievements were in light of Christ’s sacrificial love, he confessed, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. . . I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (vv. 8–9). His only remaining ambition was “to know Christ . . . the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10).

It’s dreary, indeed, to attempt on our own to become “somebody.” But as Paul discovered, to know Jesus, to lose ourselves in His self-giving love and life, is to find ourselves again (v. 9), finally free and whole.

Openhearted Generosity

No one ever died saying, ‘I’m so glad for the self-centered, self-serving, and self-protective life I lived,’ ” author Parker Palmer said in a commencement address, urging graduates to “offer [themselves] to the world . . . with openhearted generosity.”

But, Parker continued, living this way would also meaning learning “how little you know and how easy it is to fail.” Offering themselves in service to the world would require cultivating a “beginner’s mind” to “walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and failing, again and again—then getting up to learn again and again.”

It’s only when our lives are built on a foundation of grace that we can find the courage to choose such a life of fearless “openhearted generosity.” As Paul explained to his protégé Timothy, we can confidently “fan into flame” (v. 6) and live out of God’s gifting when we remember that it’s God’s grace that saves and calls us to a life of purpose (v. 9). It’s His power that gives us the courage to resist the temptation to live timidly in exchange for the Spirit’s “power, love, and self-discipline” (v. 7).  And it’s His grace that picks us up when we fall, so that we can continue a life-long journey of grounding our lives in His love (vv. 13–14).

Every Grief

“I measure every Grief I meet,” the nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size.” The poem is a moving reflection on how people carry the unique ways they’ve been wounded throughout their lives. Dickinson concludes, almost hesitantly, with her only solace: the “piercing Comfort” of seeing at Calvary her own wounds reflected in the Savior’s: “Still fascinated to presume / That Some – are like my own –.”

The book of Revelation describes Jesus, our Savior, as a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (5:6; see v. 12), His wounds still visible. Wounds earned through taking upon Himself the sin and despair of His people (1 Peter 2:24–25), so that they might have new life and hope.

And Revelation describes a future day when the Savior will “wipe every tear” from each of His children’s eyes (21:4). Jesus won’t minimize their pain, but truly see and care for each person’s unique grief—while inviting them into the new, healing realities of life in His kingdom, where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (v. 4). Where healing water will flow “without cost from the spring of the water of life” (v. 6; see 22:2).

Because our Savior has carried our every grief, we can find rest and healing in His kingdom.

Our Place of Safety

Retired teacher Debbie Stephens Browder is on a mission to convince as many people as possible to plant trees. The reason? Heat. Extreme heat in the United States is the number-one weather-related cause of death. In response, Stephens Browder says, “I’m starting with trees.” The canopy of heat protection that trees provide is one significant way to protect communities. Stephens Browder explains, “It’s life or death. It’s not just about beautifying the community. It’s about saving lives.”

The fact that shade isn’t just refreshing but potentially life-saving would have been well known to the psalmist who wrote Psalm 121; in the Middle East, the risk of sunstroke is constant. This reality adds depth to the psalm’s vivid description of God as our surest place of safety, the One in whose care “the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (v. 6).

This verse can’t mean that believers in Jesus are somehow immune to pain or loss in this life (or that heat isn’t dangerous!). After all, Christ tells us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But this metaphor of God as our shade does vividly reassure us that, whatever comes our way, our lives are held in His watchful care (Psalm 121:7–8). There we can find rest through trusting Him, knowing that nothing can separate us from His love (John 10:28; Romans 8:39).

Not a Dream

It’s like living in a dream you can’t wake up from. People who struggle with what’s sometimes called “derealization” or “depersonalization” often feel like nothing around them is quite real. While those who chronically have this feeling can be diagnosed with a disorder, it’s believed to be a common mental health struggle, especially during stressful times. But sometimes the feeling persists even when life is seemingly good. It’s as if our minds can’t trust that good things are really happening.

Scripture describes a similar struggle of God’s people at times to experience His power and deliverance as something real, not just a dream. In Acts 12, when an angel delivers Peter from prison—and possible execution (vv. 2, 4)—the apostle is described as being in a daze, not sure it was really happening (vv. 9–10). When the angel left him outside the jail, Peter finally “came to his senses” and realized it had all been real (v. 11 nlt).

In both bad times and good, it can be hard sometimes to fully believe or experience that God’s really at work in our lives. But we can trust that as we wait on Him, His resurrection power will one day become undeniably, wonderfully real. God’s light will rouse us from our sleep into the reality of life with Him (Ephesians 5:14).

Running for What Matters

It was impossible not to tear up at my friend Ira’s status update. Posted in 2022 only days after she’d left her home in the besieged capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, she shared a past image of herself lifting her country’s flag after completing a running event. She wrote, “We are all running to the best of our abilities a marathon called life. Let’s run it these days even better than that. With something that never dies in our hearts.” In the following days, I saw the many ways my friend continued to run that race, as she kept us updated on how to pray for and support those suffering in her country.

Ira’s words brought new depth to the call in Hebrews 12 for believers to “run with perseverance” (v. 1). That call follows chapter 11’s moving account of the heroes of faith, the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) who’d lived with courageous, persistent faith—even at risk to their lives (11:34). Even though they “only saw . . . and welcomed [God’s promises] from a distance” (v. 13), they were living for something eternal, for something that never dies.

All believers in Jesus are called to live that same way. Because the shalom—the flourishing and peace—of God’s kingdom is worth giving our all for. And because it’s Christ’s example and power that sustains us (12:2–3).

A New Beginning

Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie,” Eugene Peterson wrote in his powerful reflections on Psalm 120. Psalm 120 is the first of the “psalms of ascent” (Psalms 120–134) sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. And as Peterson explored in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity Press, 2000)[1] , these psalms also offer us a picture of the spiritual journey toward God.

That journey can only begin with profound awareness of our need for something different. As Peterson puts it, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. . . [One] has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.”

It’s easy to become discouraged by the brokenness and despair we see in the world around us—the pervasive ways our culture often shows callous disregard for the harm being done to others. Psalm 120 laments this honestly: “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (v. 7).

But there’s healing and freedom in realizing that our pain can also awaken us to a new beginning through our only help (121:2)—the Savior who can guide us from destructive lies into paths of peace and wholeness. As we enter this new year, may we seek Him and His ways.

Onwards! Unswerving

In his poem “Rest,” nineteenth-century minister John Sullivan Dwight gently challenges our tendency to separate “leisure” time from “work,” asking, “Is not true leisure / One with true toil?” If you want to experience true leisure, instead of trying to avoid life’s duties, Dwight urges, “Still do thy best; Use it, not waste it,— / Else ‘tis not rest. / Wouldst behold beauty / Near thee? All round? / Only hath duty / Such a sight found.”

Dwight concludes that true rest and joy are both found through love and service—something that brings to mind Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians. After describing his calling to encourage believers “to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12), the apostle gives more specifics.

And the picture he paints of such a life is one of quiet integrity, love, and service. Paul prays that God would “make [their] love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (3:12). And he urges believers in Jesus to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” to “mind your own business and work with your hands” (4:11). It’s that kind of life, quietly loving and serving in whatever ways God has enabled us, that reveals to others the beauty of a life of faith (v. 12).

Or, as Dwight puts it, true joy is “loving and serving / The highest and best; / ‘Tis onwards! Unswerving— / And that is true rest.”

God’s Gentle Grace

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, suggesting that, because God’s truth and glory is far “too bright” for vulnerable human beings to understand or receive all at once, it’s best for us to receive and share God’s grace and truth in “slant”—gentle, indirect—ways. For “the Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.”

The apostle Paul made a similar argument in Ephesians 4 when he urged believers to be “completely humble and gentle” and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). The foundation for believers’ gentleness and grace with each other, Paul explained, is Christ’s gracious ways with us. Clothing His glory to descend to be with us (vv. 9–10), Jesus revealed Himself in the quiet, gentle ways people needed in order to trust and receive Him.

And He continues to reveal Himself in such gentle, loving ways—gifting and empowering His people in just the ways they need to continue to grow and mature—“so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” (vv. 12–13). As we grow, we become less vulnerable to looking elsewhere for hope (v. 14) and more confident in following Jesus’ example of gentle love (vv. 15–16).